Say yes to jumping out of planes, to diving with sharks and to driving across states. Say yes to every opportunity to travel further, to meet new people and to learn new things. Say yes to it all, it will be the best decision you ever make.
Inter-railing around Europe and driving the coast of Australia was what I decided to do with my gap year. Although this is just a tiny amount of travelling in comparison to the professionals, it was these trips that saw both the happiest and scariest moments of my life and both are equally valuable to me.
Travelling through unfamiliar cities with poor map-reading skills and a heavy reliance on a sat-nav with a short battery life can force you to solve some potentially dangerous situations. These moments changed my entire perspective of the world. One hair-raising encounter can open your eyes to the possibilities of this life, the good and the bad.
Once you have navigated your way out of a campsite on Creepy-Creek at 3am with some crazy-eyed campers pounding the side of your wicked van, when you only wanted to see some glow worms, the sense of invincibility is exciting. This feeling boosts your self-belief, you revel in the experience and border on adrenaline junkie.
I would be lying if I were to say my gap year was a laugh a minute as there were, of course, low moments where I longed for home comforts. But, now I look back, these times are equally beneficial. They force you to rely solely on yourself. When home isn’t on the other end of a telephone, it is your responsibility to deal with the health hazards of the backpacker life. It is your responsibility to frantically remember the How to Survive a Crocodile Death Roll chapter of the survival book you mocked when you unwrapped it at Christmas. It is also your responsibility to deal with the wrath of the dangerous biting bugs that everyone warned you about and which do, seemingly, bite and are quite dangerous. My first day in Melbourne was a day of many firsts for me: sleeping on a balcony that appeared to simulate the sensation of a wind-tunnel, making the first of hundreds of plastic cheese and ketchup sandwiches and confronting a tick bite that still makes my skin crawl. Nevertheless, they were dealt with and all was fine. You realise that you, in fact, don’t care about having a clean bed and clean hair, which is incredibly liberating.
It is the independence that is most fulfilling in the long run and pulls you further from the bubble of home life. Those friends from school will only hear the stories of when you went skydiving that one time and it was really cool or when you fashioned a bag of goon into a cosy pillow. Unknown to them, it is, in fact, the times that still make your palms sweat that are the most valuable and rewarding. It is what you take from that moment when you unknowingly wander into the less-desirable part of the city in search of some dinner that will be useful to you one day.
You will remember the shark story a surfer told you in the tavern and you will remember the songs those musicians played at that party. These moments will stay with you forever and evoke that feeling of freedom every time you hear that song or remember that place. These encounters show you what you are capable of doing when you stop worrying about what everyone else is thinking and you become you.
It was the small surf towns along the coast with not many people and not a lot to do that blew my mind. The alternatives and possibilities of this world are endless. There is not simply one way to live this life and it was the people I met, the places I visited and the sights I saw that restored the true values in my life. These experiences subliminally shaped me as a person, growing, maturing and developing without the shallow constraints of the bubble.
What I am trying to say is that this one year of naively crossing continents and stepping blindly into situations is worth every penny. The adventure will place you in the face of danger as well as ignite your love for this world. The travel bug will continue to feed your nostalgia until you return to the road.
And, if roaming the world did not spark a yearning to book your next flight, in the words of Gustave Flaubert, it certainly makes you modest, it makes you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world which, alone, is a valuable lesson to learn.